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How do I handle the introduction of a new kitten or cat?

| September 17, 2016

If you’re introducing a new kitten, don’t be surprised if your older cats react with great hostility at first; they will sometimes hiss and spit at the kitten for up to two weeks. Don’t scold your ‘old’ cat for this kind of behaviour; it needs a lot of extra love and reassurance that it is not being replaced in your home and in your affections. Practically ignore the kitten in the older cat’s presence, but touch both cats often in order to transfer their smells to each other. Giving the older cat all your attention will also help the kitten to understand that the older cat should be deferred to.

Initially, keep the kitten isolated and confined to a secure room (with a radio and a warm or luke-warm hot-water bottle for comfort) when you go out, and only allow it to come into contact with existing pets once you are very sure they have all accepted each other. Don’t suddenly change your habits, for example by kicking your older cat out of your bedroom so that the kitten can sleep with you; it is important to disrupt the older cat as little a possible.

Also ensure that your kitten is kept indoors for several months before letting it begin to explore the outside world.

If you have small children, your supervision will be essential to ensure that the kitten remains safe and healthy and is given enough time to sleep. (Remember that kittens need to sleep for up to 20 hours a day.) Taking care that your toddler treats the kitten with care and respect will help ensure that a strong, healthy bond develops between them. We suggest that you try to apply the following two “rules”:

1) That the child may hold the kitten only when the child is sitting still, not when s/he is walking or running.

2) That the child learns to release the kitten as soon as it begins to wriggle.

If you’ve just adopted an adult cat or moved it to a new house, keep it strictly indoors for at least two weeks − this is essential for its safety. Begin by confining it to one room of your house for several days (preferably a spare room or other tranquil room, such as a study). Provide fresh food and water and a clean litter box, and if possible a radio. After several days, slowly introduce your new pet to the rest of your house, without letting it come into contact with other pets, until it has become used to all the smells, sights and sounds of its new home.

When introducing a new cat to existing cats, the biggest mistake you can make, is rushing things too much. Begin by exposing the “old” cat to the smell of the “new” cat by rubbing a piece of cloth over the new cat, presenting it to the old cat to smell, rubbing another piece of cloth over the old cat, and presenting it to the new cat to smell. Then apply both smells to the same cloth and present it to both the old and the new cats until neither of them react to it. The next step is to add the smell of the owner to the piece of cloth (push it down your T or bra and keep it there for a while). Then mix a teaspoon of used litter with the other cat’s litter.
Subsequently, allow the old cat and the new cat to see each other for short periods, but through a barrier of glass or mesh. (Installing a mesh door in the room the new cat is in, works well, since it allows the cats to get used to each other without feeling threatened.)

Then give both cats treats in full view of each other, to ensure pleasant conditioning. (Make sure they’re hungry beforehand.)

Later, apply “timesharing” overnight, in other words keep one cat in the room and let the other one out in the rest of the house, and swap them around the following night. Allow them to see each other through the barrier of glass or mesh for gradually longer periods until they calm down completely. At last, remove the barrier and try to remain calm yourself!

If you have dogs, introduce them one by one to the newcomer (keeping boisterous dogs on a leash at first) after the initial settling-in period described above. Make sure that you are present when the animals first meet as well as for the first several weeks, until you are completely sure that they have accepted each other.

If you’ve been planning a holiday, it’s an excellent plan to put the old and new cats in a cattery together, since they tend to accept each other much more easily on neutral ground. Remember to explain the situation to the cattery owner, though, so that he or she can keep a watchful eye on your pets. Then, when you take all your cats home, keep the new one indoors as described above, and allow the ‘old’ ones to visit it several hours a day.

After two weeks, start introducing your new pet to the garden, an hour or so at a time, preferably under supervision. For the first few sessions, try to ensure that the cat will not be frightened by e.g. other animals, loud noises or sudden movements, so keep other animals and small children away. It’s also a good idea to teach your cat which window to use to get into and out of the house by physically guiding it in and out of the window several times. When your pet is completely settled in, ensure that this window is always kept ajar. Alternatively, have a pet door installed in one of your outside doors.


(By Anneke, National Cat Action Task Force, partly based on information obtained from Dr Quixi Sonntag)


Category: Blog

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